Dhammakaya Movement

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The Dhammakāya Tradition is a Buddhist Tradition founded in Thailand in the 1970s, with roots stretching back much earlier. It is said to be the fastest-growing Buddhist movement in present-day Thailand.[1] It teaches of the reality of a True Self (the Dhammakaya) in all beings, which equates with Nirvana.


It was founded by the Thai Phramongkolthepmuni (1885–1959) - a celebrated meditation master and the late abbot of Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, Thonburi. The movement is primarily represented today by its non-profit foundation, the Dhammakaya Foundation, and the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani Province, Thailand.

Identifying features[edit]

Revivalist school[edit]

The Dhammakaya tradition formally belongs to the ancient Maha Nikaya tradition of Thai Theravada Buddhism,[2] being correctly regarded as revivalist rather than a new movement or a fundamentalist movement.[3][4] It supposedly has many doctrinal elements to distinguish it from conventional Theravāda Buddhism.[citation needed]

The Dhammakāya school of meditation is marked by its literal interpretation of Buddhist technical terms, (including the term dhammakāya) in their physical meaning, as described by Phramongkolthepmuni. Many sermons of Phramongkolthepmuni himself can be traced back to some schools of meditation in Southeast Asia preserved only in ancient meditation manuals.

Some of the Thai meditation masters who teach of a true Self (Dhammakaya), of which they claim meditative experience, are highly revered and even worshipped as arhats and Bodhisattvas by members of the Thai Buddhist populace.[5]

True Self[edit]

According to the Dhammakaya Movement, the Buddha made the discovery that nirvana is nothing less than the attā [the true Self]'.[6] According to Paul Williams, in some respects the teachings of the Dhammakaya Movement resemble the Buddha-nature and Trikaya doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism.[7] Williams sees the Dhammakaya Movement of Thailand as having developed independently of the Mahayana tathāgatagarbha tradition but as achieving some remarkably similar results in their understanding of Buddhism.[8] According to Paul Williams,

[Dhammakaya] meditations involve the realization, when the mind reaches its purest state, of an unconditioned “Dhamma Body” (dhammakaya) in the form of a luminous, radiant and clear Buddha figure free of all defilements and situated within the body of the meditator. Nirvana is the true Self, and this is also the dhammakaya.[9]

The bulk of Thai Theravāda Buddhism rejects this teaching and insists upon non-self as a universal fact. As against this, Phra Thepyanmonkol of the Dhammakaya Movement (which does not see itself as Mahāyānist but as modern Theravāda) argues that it tends to be scholars who hold the view of absolute non-self, rather than Buddhist meditators. Also, according to him, only the compounded and conditioned is non-self - not nirvana. Williams summarises Phra Thepyanmonkol’s views, and adds his own comment at the end:

[Scholars] incline towards a not-Self perspective. But only scholars hold that view. By way of contrast, Phra Thepyanmonkol mentions in particular the realizations of several distinguished forest hermit monks. Moreover, he argues, impermanence, suffering and not-Self go together. Anything which is not-Self is also impermanent and suffering. But, it is argued, nirvana is not suffering, nor is it impermanent. It is not possible to have something which is permanent, not suffering (i.e. is happiness) and yet for it still to be not-Self. Hence it is not not-Self either. It is thus (true, or transcendental) Self … These ways of reading Buddhism in terms of a true Self certainly seem to have been congenial in the East Asian environment, and hence flourished in that context where for complex reasons Mahayana too found a ready home.[10]


One factor which catalyzes this Foundation is the personality of Phramongkolthepmuni (1884–1959) . The account of his attaining dhammakāya in 1916 through his willingness to lay down his life evoked the image of 'self-sacrifice' in the minds of his disciples.

Dhammakaya Foundation[edit]

The Dhammakāya Foundation was founded in 1916 in Thailand by disciples of Khun Yay Mahā Ratana Upāsikā Chandra Khonnokyoong, a Buddhist mae ji. In 1970, a temple, called Wat Phra Dhammakaya, was constructed as a home for the movement. Located in Khlong Luang, Pathum Thani Province, the temple was intended to become an international center for the study of meditation.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya[edit]

Main article: Wat Phra Dhammakaya
The Memorial Hall of Phramonkolthepmuni
Ordination ceremony for new monks at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a wat (Buddhist temple-monastery) in Khlong Luang District, Pathum Thani Province north of Bangkok, Thailand.[11] It was established on Magha Puja, February 20, 1970, on an 80 acres (32 ha) plot of land donated by Lady Prayat Phaetayapongsa-visudhathibodi. The site, sixteen kilometres north of Bangkok International Airport, was originally called 'Soon Buddacakk-patipatthamm'. From acidic paddy fields, a woodland was created: a parkland for meditators. The foundation stone for the main chapel laid by Princess Sirindhorn on behalf of Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand, in December 1977 marked the official foundation of the centre as a temple—Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The movement produced a CDROM[12] of the Pali Buddhist Scriptures in cooperation with the Pali Text Society in 1995 and by the year 2000 its monastic students were the most successful Pali students in Thailand.[13]

Public accusations of 1999–2002[edit]

The Dhammakāya Foundation has been subject to its share of controversy. In 1999[14][15] and again in 2002,[16][17] leaders of the organization were accused of charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to corruption. At that time social critic Sulak Sivaraksa criticized the Dhammakaya Movement for promoting greed by emphasizing donations to the temple as a way to make merit. Widespread negative media coverage at this time was symptomatic of the movement being made the scapegoat for commercial malpractice in the Thai Buddhist temple community[18][19] in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.[20][21]

In 2006 the Thai National Office for Buddhism cleared the Dhammakaya Foundation and Phrathepyanmahamuni of all accusations[22] when Phrarajbhavanavisudh agreed to return all the allegedly embezzled funds to name of his temple. Phrarajbhavanavisudh was subsequently restored to the position of abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.[23]


Under the leadership of president Phrathepyanmahamuni (Luang Phaw Dhammajayo, b.1944), the image of the Dhammakāya Foundation has made a recovery, and in 2004-5 had received further recognition for its contribution to world peace from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Thai Senate, and several peoples' associations in the South of Thailand. The Dhammakaya Movement continues to influence millions of people in Thailand and worldwide to practice Dhammakaya meditation. The movement has set up Dhammakaya Open University in Azusa, California in 2003 to offer degree courses in Buddhist studies. It has also encouraged Thais to quit drinking and smoking through the activities of anti-drinking and anti-smoking programs. World Health Organization (WHO) presented the 2004 World No Tobacco Day Award for this work on 31 May 2004[24] [5]

The movement has expanded branches to over eighteen countries worldwide and is promoted via a Buddhist satellite network or Dhamma Media Channel (DMC.TV) with 24-hour-a-day Dharma and meditation teachings broadcast to worldwide.

Accusations that the Thai Government had financed the activities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made in a letter by Sulak Sivalaksa on 10 May 2010[25] but the government issued a press release on 12 May to deny the accusations.[26]

On March 31, 2014, Dhammayaka Foundation held alms offering to the abbots or the representatives of 323 temples in the four southern provinces of Thailand. This kind of event has constantly been held for 10 years. And this is the 100th alms offering to the temples in the four southern provinces.[27]


  1. ^ Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, Routledge, Oxford, 2009, p. 327
  2. ^ Swearer, D. K. (1991) Fundemantalistic Movements in Theravada Buddhism, in: M. E. Marty & R. S. Appleby (Eds) Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago & London, University of Chicago Press), p.656
  3. ^ Cousins, L. S. (1996) The Origins of Insight Meditation, in: T. Skorupski (Ed) The Buddhist Forum: Seminar Papers, 1994-1996 (London, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies), p.39.
  4. ^ Heikkilä-Horn, M-J (1996) Two Paths to Revivalism in Thai Buddhism: The Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke Movements, Temenos 32, pp.93-111
  5. ^ Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, 2009, Routledge, Oxford, 2009, pp. 237 - 239
  6. ^ Williams, Paul (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (PDF) (2 ed.). Taylor & Francis e-Library. p. 126. ISBN 0203428471. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Williams, Paul (2008). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (PDF) (2 ed.). Taylor & Francis e-Library. pp. 126–128. ISBN 0203428471. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, 2009, p. 128
  9. ^ Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Routledge, London, 2009, p. 126
  10. ^ P. Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, London, 2009, pp. 127-128.
  11. ^ Delahunty, Andrew (23 October 2008). From Bonbon to Cha-cha: Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases. OUP Oxford. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-19-954369-4. 
  12. ^ Dhammakaya Foundation (1995) Palitext Version 1.0: CD-ROM Database of the Entire Buddhist Pali Canon (Bangkok, Darnsutha) ISBN 978-974-8235-87-5
  13. ^ Trainor, Kevin (2004) Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide (London, Duncan Baird), p.216.
  14. ^ "'I Will Never Be Disrobed' says Thai abbot of Dhammakaya Temple", and "Between Faith and Fund-Raising", Asiaweek 17 September 1999
  15. ^ David Liebhold (1999) Trouble in Nirvana: Facing charges over his controversial methods, a Thai abbot sparks debate over Buddhism's future Time Asia 28 July 1999 [1]
  16. ^ Yasmin Lee Arpon (2002) Scandals Threaten Thai Monks' Future SEAPA 11 July 2002 [2]
  17. ^ Controversial monk faces fresh charges The Nation 26 April 2002
  18. ^ Wiktorin, Pierre (2005) De Villkorligt Frigivna: Relationen mellan munkar och lekfolk i ett nutida Thailand (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International) p.137 ISSN 1653-6355
  19. ^ Julian Gearing (1999) Buddhist Scapegoat?: One Thai abbot is taken to task, but the whole system is to blame Asiaweek 30 December 1999 [3]<
  20. ^ Bangkokbiznews 24 June 2001 p.11
  21. ^ Matichon 19 July 2003
  22. ^ Bangkok Post 23 August 2006
  23. ^ Yuwa Song News Today 23 August 2006
  24. ^ Tawandhamma Foundation (2007) The Sun of Peace (Bangkok: New Witek), p.180
  25. ^ Chinnaworn halts moral conduct plan
  26. ^ นายกฯ จี้ ศธ.เคลียร์ MOU สพฐ.-ธรรมกาย ให้กระจ่าง
  27. ^ [4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Laohavanich, Mano Mettanando (2012). Esoteric Teaching of Wrat Phra Dhammakaya, Journal of Buddhist Ethics 19, 483-513
  • Mackenzie, Rory (2007), New Buddhist Movements in Thailand: Towards an Understanding of Wat Phra Dhammakāya and Santi Asoke, Oxon: Routledge.
  • McCargo, Duncan (1999), ‘The politics of Buddhism in Southeast Asia’, in Jeff Haynes (ed.), Religion, globalization and the political culture in the Third World, Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 213–39.
  • Rahonyi, Reka (1996), Wat Phra Dhammakaya: "A Refuge in the Midst of a Turbulent World" - Analysis of a Contemporary Thai Buddhist Movement, Senior Thesis, Harvard University.
  • Scott, Rachelle M. (2009,) Nirvana for Sale?: Buddhism, Wealth, and the Dhammakāya Temple in Contemporary Thailand, Albany: State University of New York Press.

External links[edit]

Official links[edit]